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Conversations with the Inspiring Umna Khan Hamed

Today we’d like to introduce you to Umna Khan Hamed.

Umna, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am: a recent San Diego transplant, a proud Pakistani American and Muslim, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a Marketing Officer, a blogger, a self-proclaimed chef  @BusyBInTheKitch, an artist and founder of Umna Khan ChariTees, a designer and an advocate of social justice and education.

Originally from Sacramento, California, I grew up in a household with two Pakistani immigrant parents and two sisters. As American-born Pakistani girls, we were constantly reminded of all the opportunities we needed to take advantage of to get ahead in life. We watched our dad and mom work tirelessly at our family rice farm, only to give us a better life here than we would have if we were still living in Pakistan. Their sacrifices are what instilled the values of education, hard work and persistence in all of us. My dad used to say, “knowledge is the most powerful thing you can have, because it’s the one thing that can never be taken away from you.” It was his sole purpose to make sure we all lived fulfilling lives and made a difference in this world by gaining knowledge and sharing its power with others.

As far as I can remember, one of the first things that turned my life upside down is when my dad passed away from cancer my junior year of college. I had promised him that I would always keep his hopes for me at the forefront of my mind, but I lost a lot of my own. After graduating from the George Washington University in DC, I moved to New York to do cancer research because I thought I could help make a difference while healing from the experience with my dad. Being 21 years old with no clear vision for the future, I soon realized I had made a major life mistake. Within a month of starting, I moved back home with my mom and was unemployed while the while the rest of the world was now moving on without me. I felt like a disappointment to my parents and thought my dad would be so hurt to see that his sacrifices were going to waste.

My misery and unemployment led to more reflection time, which gave me the opportunity to think and express myself through my artwork. I picked up my high school art supplies and starting drawing/sharing my work on social media. After a great deal of people suggested printing my work on apparel, I started printing my artwork on t-shirts and sold them online. All proceeds collected went towards tuition costs for young orphan girls in Pakistan. Umna Khan ChariTEES came to life after this and I continued to create more eye-opening art that would ultimately spread awareness of those in need within third world countries.

While this turned into a lifelong passion, I was still using it as a band-aid for the fact that I didn’t know what I should do with my life. Countless hours of research and wishful thinking led me to Marketing. I made a bold move to Los Angeles and enrolled in a social media marketing class at UCLA with the hopes of getting my foot in the door somewhere. The stars ended up aligning for me and my renowned professor hired me to work as a Marketing Assistant for her consulting agency. This jump-started my career in the business and marketing field, and I finally felt like my life got its direction back. I continued to self-teach and immerse myself in every task so that I could work my way up and eventually become the Project Manager for the company.

In the middle of all this, I ended up meeting my wonderful and supportive husband through social media when he reached out to support my cause and purchase a t-shirt. It looked like my unemployment period had a HUGE silver lining to it. Long story short– we ended up getting married a year after dating long distance and I moved up to Spokane, Washington, while he finished up the last months of pharmacy school. When he got a job offer in San Diego, we packed the car faster than he could say yes and drove 24 hours south to start our new life.

Being 24 years old, newly married, and starting over in a new city was challenging to say the least. Meeting people and making a new place feel like home seemed impossible when working remotely from home with no actual human interaction. I knew it was time for another life change, so I applied to a few jobs and took a position as the Marketing Officer for a growing community business bank. Keeping my dad’s lesson about knowledge in mind, I wanted to do as much as I could to elevate myself professionally and keep growing so I could take on more opportunities. More countless hours of research led me to the booming industries of data science and business analytics. As I learned about its importance and heavy integration into almost every field, I realized how valuable this field of study would be if I wanted to evolve in my career. Surprisingly I managed to excel in some of the most rigorous classes and get my graduate certificate in Business Intelligence Analysis.

I balanced my busy lifestyle by regularly attending spin classes at Cyclebar, where I made some of the most amazing friends in my life. I also turned my creative energy from drawing into cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. As a working woman on the go, who also runs her home, I wanted to share my “knowledge” of healthy and traditional recipes that were perfect for busy men and women just like myself. I created my Instagram blog, Busy B**** In the Kitch to share my recipes/tips for cooking and it took off with all the positive feedback.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Looking back at life and my journey so far, I can speak optimistically and tell you that things could have been much worse. Nonetheless, “smooth” would not be an accurate description. There have been moments where life has thrown me off track and I felt like I couldn’t catch a break no matter how hard I tried to succeed. For example, I lost my dad and biggest support, couldn’t find a job, made a horrible cross-country move, struggled with my self-esteem, got judged for doing “nothing” with my life, adjusted to a new married life while figuring out my own life, moved to a new city and had no friends or career direction. In all aspects of life, I never innately knew what I wanted to do next and having to start over time and time again did not help. My goals are constantly evolving, just as myself and the world are; so it really is a never-ending journey towards my goals. I’ve learned that if you have the persistence and passion to achieve them, you’ll be willing to stand up and keep going after falling a thousand times. In times of defeat, my husband would always tell me, ‘If success were easy, everyone would have it.”

My advice is that life will knock you down but how badly do you want it? How badly do you want to be successful or happy or proud that you’ve accomplished something for yourself? My journey wasn’t difficult so that I could fail. It was difficult so I could be successful and build from the hardship. If you commit yourself to your life’s purpose or goal, everything else will eventually fall into place regardless of how many turns and twists you take.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
1. Umna Khan ChariTees: The medium I predominantly use for my artwork is pen and ink. As life unfolded and the world became full of injustices, I used my artwork as a voice to speak up about some of the issues we face today such as gun violence, racial discrimination, the immigrant bans and the flawed justice system. I combined my traditional patterns, influenced from henna designs, with messages that would evoke emotion and spread awareness of global issues that need to be spoken about. My hope is that I can do more than just be a voice; I want to use this as a channel to actively make a difference and create positive change amongst my generation.

2. Marketing and Business Analytics: I feel grateful and proud to have been given the opportunity to do what I love. The business and STEM fields have opened up so many different avenues to explore and grow from, both professionally and personally. Being a creative content marketer and designer feels like second nature and all within my comfort zone; however, diving into business intelligence and obtaining a whole new skillset in data analytics felt like far leap outside of my comfort zone. From this, I’ve learned that one of the biggest secrets to success is operating inside your strength zone but outside of your comfort zone. Without challenging myself and continuing my exploration into unknown territories of my field, I would not have been able to learn about the different strengths, talents and confidence I possess. I can truly say that I love the path I have chosen, and it continues to push me so that I am better and brighter each and every day.

3. Busy B**** In The Kitch: I have a love/hate relationship with social media but it has always served as a creative outlet filled with various networking and learning opportunities. As someone who takes care of the house, goes to work out every day, works 9-5, studies each night and has to commute about 2 hours every day, it’s hard to find a balance to keep your mental sanity intact. As someone who didn’t know how to make more than a fried egg before getting married, I wanted to learn how to make the traditional food I grew up with at home in effort to stop eating out. My problem and excuse always turned towards the lack of time in my schedule. After being on social media and seeing so many other women with similar issues, I had to do something enlightening to help. I started experimenting in the kitchen and shared my recipes on Instagram for people who want their mom’s cooking but have minimal time to make it. The reception to it has been mind-blowing and I love the different feedback and conversations I get to have with people around the world.

Do you have any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general? What has worked well for you?
Going out into the world as a young adult and trying to network with strangers is daunting and at most times, uncomfortable. I have reached out and messaged individuals I have never met on different social media platforms to build connections, all of which made me feel slightly stalker-ish and desperate. Most of the time, the people I reach out to are in the same boat but don’t necessarily have the courage to take that step first. It’s comforting to know that you’re not the only one that feels this way. The best advice I can give is to open up your mind and be vulnerable. Have the courage to put yourself out into the world and seize every opportunity, even if success is not guaranteed. You will be amazed at what you will find and who you will get to meet once you get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Contact Info:

  • Email: umnakhan@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @umna.khan & @busybinthekitch

Image Credit:
Umna Khan

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1 Comment

  1. Mirna Batarseh

    July 5, 2019 at 6:29 pm

    Umna Khan…I read through your inspiring story. I hear you…I am myself an immigrant from Jerusalem…Ahhhh..
    I loved your commitment and persistent and for never giving up. keep going you are making a huge difference and you are effecting and touching lives around you. thank you for sharing and I am thankful I got the privilege to know such a wonderful person. I pray…May God continue to shine His face upon you and may He gives you and shower you with blessings from above.
    my motto is in Christ I can do all things. hope to connect on a personal level.
    all my love and respect to a wonderful Umna.

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